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Disability carer accused of mistreating group home clients loses unfair dismissal bid

Disability advocates say they are "appalled" by allegations that an ACT carer washed a client with a broom, but warn the case is only the tip of the iceberg.

Clinton Dahler was working at the Burn Group House in 2012, when allegations were made about misconduct and impropriety.

According to the Federal Circuit Court, he had been accused of yelling at clients, hitting them, misappropriating the funds of one, and pushing another over.

An independent investigation established the veracity of two allegations: that he washed three clients in the shower at the same time, and used a broom to wash the bottom of another.

In January 2013, he was told misconduct and breaches of the rights of his clients had been proved, and he was to be sacked from Disability ACT.

Six months later, after the decision had been confirmed, Mr Dahler complained to the Fair Work Commission.


He launched an unfair dismissal case that was thrown out by the Federal Circuit Court earlier this month. 

The court's judgment revealed details of the case for the first time publicly. 

People with Disability Australia president Craig Wallace said he was shocked by the allegations. 

"Sadly, cases where there are allegations like this are just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the abuse of people with disabilities by paid carers, by families, by other people that are close to them," he said.

"We've seen in the national Senate inquiry into abuse and neglect of people with disabilities, dozens and dozens of stories come out about the most vile institutional abuse."

Mr Wallace praised the government for standing its ground in the case and ensuring the carer was removed from contact with clients quickly.

But he said the case reiterated the need for a strong framework of safeguards and ensuring quality of workers, particularly as the National Disability Insurance Scheme is rolled out.

Mr Dahler had taken his unfair dismissal action under provisions of the Fair Work Act, which prevent an employer taking adverse action against an employee for pursuing a "workplace right".

That argument was dismissed by the Federal Circuit Court, which said Mr Dahler was dismissed for misconduct.

"First, Mr Dahler was not dismissed because he had (or exercised) a workplace right," Judge Rolf Driver wrote in a judgment.

"Rather, he was dismissed because the employer determined that he had engaged in misconduct.

"Secondly ... the dismissal was not adverse action because it was authorised under the [enterprise bargaining agreement]."

Mr Dahler had also tried to use provisions in fair work laws preventing adverse action from being taken against an employee because of that person's "family or carer's responsibilities".

The ACT government argued that provision was clearly designed to protect individuals in cases where they are looking after their own family and household, and did not extend to Mr Dahler's work responsibilities.

Judge Driver found Mr Dahler had failed to prove any contravention of the Fair Work Act in his dismissal.